SD's Russian Brigade.

Following the disbandment of the Experimental Formation Center (the self-proclaimed Russian Nationalist National Army) at the beginning of 1943, the chief proponent of creating an autonomous Russian unit within the Wehrmacht, S. Ivanov, offered his services to the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt - RSHA) firmly believing that RSHA's VI (SD Foreign Intelligence) Department (SD was an abbreviation for Sicherheitsdienst or Security Service in English; for a general description of SD see below) wielded greater influence and presented more opportunities than the German Heer (Army). The SD responded by placing him in command of a brigade of Russian turncoats who were under SD's jurisdiction. Ivanov was assigned the task of furnishing this SD brigade with its own Russian commanders, and eventually developing it into the very first unit of the Russkaya Osvoboditelnaya Armiya (Russian Liberation Army) better known simply as ROA. In order to materialize SD's (and his own) aims, Ivanov attracted to the brigade some former RNNA commanders like Kromiadi, Saharov, and Lamsdorff. Ivanov also consulted the renegade General Vlasov, who gave his backing for the project provided that Zhilenkov (for information on Ivanov, Zhilenkov, and the others see the page on RNNA) will assume the command of the brigade. Ivanov agreed to Vlasov's request.

The SD brigade was garrisoned near Pskov (north-western Russia), and its Russian personnel referred to their unit as Druzhina (Russian for "Detachment"). The brigade's commander was a former officer on the Soviet General Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Radionov, also known by his alias of "Gil". This brigade was the sole significant Russian unit ever created by the SD.

Originally the SD was NSDAP's security and intelligence service (its beginnings can be traced from 1931 to NSDAP's press and information service); nevertheless, already before the war its scope of activities had grown to include gathering of intelligence both at home and abroad. In fact it even began to compete in these fields with the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence), which it eventually absorbed in 1944. Following the invasion of Soviet Union, SD created a special sub-organization called Operation Zeppelin. Its aim was to infiltrate German agents into Soviet-held territory. The above-mentioned SD's brigade of Russian renegades was designed as a sort of "strategic reserve" of menpower for the Operation Zeppelin. The brigade's participation in anti-partisan operations was to serve as a valuable training exercise and as a test of the Russians' loyalty to the Germans.

The brigade's origins can be traced to the so called "Russian National Union", which was established by renegade Russian POWs at the Suwalki POW camp in north-eastern Poland during the winter of 1941-1942. The chief purpose of the "Russian National Union" was to promote the Russians' struggle against Bolshevism alongside their German "allies". The total membership of the union was equivalent in size to a German battalion. In early 1942 the union was de facto dissolved and its entire membership came under SD's jurisdiction. In the summer of 1942 these Russian traitors were ordered to move to Stary Bykow. Early in its existence the group was led by many prominent former Soviet commanders, including Major General Bogdanov (a former commander of the 47-th Rifle Division), the above-mentioned Lieutenant Colonel Radionov (alias "Gil"), Lieutenant Colonel Orlov, Major Yuhnov, and Major Andrusenko. The unit's super hypocritical motto was "For Russia".

A similar second unit was founded on 11 December, 1942, when 135 turncoats were recruited in Stalag 319A by Major Blazhevicz with the help of two camp leaders named Alelekov and Makarenko. This second unit was dispatched to Gajdow in vicinity of Lublin in south-eastern Poland. In March of 1943 both units were moved to the Glubokoye area in Belarus, where they were combined into a single larger unit that became known as the "SS Druzhina Brigade" (a somewhat mis-leading designation as this was a purely SD formation with no association with the SS proper).

It is worth noting that in February of 1943 the Germans selected a group of 50 of these Russian renegades and send them on a trip to Germany. This trip proved to be counter-productive as the Russians learned from their fellow countrymen held at the Oranienburg Concentration Camp (north of Berlin), as well as from Russian slave workers, of the brutal treatment they endured at the hands of the Germans. As a result of what they learrned during the trip, many of the 50 Russians began to question the very logic of collaborating with the Germans. These doubts about the genuine intentions of the Germans helped give rise to a patriotic anti-Nazi cell within the SD brigade. This cell was led by Gil-Radionov and Blazhevicz; the latter managed to establish secret contacts with the Soviet intelligence during several journeys to Latvia.

During May of 1943 the SD brigade participated alongside German units in a major anti-partisan operation. There were no problems with the fighting abilities of the brigade, and not a single defection was reported. The Germans began to intensively indoctrinate the Russian SD-men with "Russian Nationalism" and with the idea that they form a nucleus of a future "Russian liberation army". After being reinforced with some additional Russian volunteers, the brigade increased in strength to 3 000 men.

Since Gil-Radionov concluded that Zhilenkov is an unrepentant Vlasovite and Nazi collaborator, he removed him from the position of brigade commander and made him a commander of a 300-strong training unit. The local SD headquarters decided that this training unit be assigned to the Northern High Command of Operation Zeppelin in Pskov, under the command of SS Major Otto Kraus. Kraus decided to transform this training unit into a regular military detachment, what he proceeded to do. As a result of his decisions, the First Guard Brigade of ROA was created; it was as a matter of fact the very first real ROA unit, and as such it was also the very first Russian military collaborationist formation to maintain regular contacts with Vlasov. The First Guard Brigade of ROA was garrisoned in the small town of Stremutka, about nine miles from Pskov.

On 22 June, 1943, the Germans celebrated the second anniversary of their invasion of the Soviet Union. To mark this occasion a military parade was organized in Pskov. To the shock and disbelief of the Russian on-lookers, the German military parade was opened by a company of the First Guard Brigade of ROA. Among the Russian on-lookers present at the parade were also honorary guests like Zhilenkov, Kromiadi, and Boyarski. The Russian traitors were celebrating the invasion and rape of their own country!

By August, 1943, Gil-Radionov was so fed up with all the German atrocities committed on his fellow compatriots that he arranged a meeting between his representative Major General Bogdanov (and his chief of intelligence) and the Zhelezniak Partisan Brigade. The Soviet partisans conducted the negotiations with the permission of the Soviet government. No agreement was reached however, as Bogdanov was too timid to desert, and requested only an "armstice" that would extend to the Germans as well! Afterwards the partisans promised Gil-Radionov that no retribution will be undertaken against all those Russian SD-men who decide to join them, provided that they will go over with all their weapons, join in the struggle against the Germans, and hand-over Bogdanov and a certain emigre captain named Count Mirski. Gil-Radionov decided to agree to these terms.

On 13 August, 1943, the mis-named "SS Druzhina Brigade" was encircled by the partisans. Gil-Radionov and other members of the patriotic cell proceeded to persuade their Russian comrades to join the partisans, but unfortunetly many of the brigade's officers, aided by the German SD liaison team that was permanently assigned to the brigade, attempted to kill the patriots. In the ensuing struggle the entire SD liaison team, along with many hard-core Russian collaborators, was wiped-out. Subsequently, much of the brigade joined the partisans and proceeded to occupy the Krulevshczina Railway Station; thus, the important railway line connecting Pskov with Polotsk was severed. Glubokoye was also attacked, but this assault was repelled. The freedom fighters decided to abondone the siege and retreated into the forests.

Only about 30 Russian SD officers and 500 enlisted men remained in the German service following this incident. The defectors were transformed into the Soviet First Anti-Fascist Brigade, and Gil-Radionov was awarded by Stalin the Order of the Red Star. The brigade went on to fight numerous engagements against the Axis, some of which involved fighting what remained of the "SS Druzhina Brigade"; both units suffered heavy casualties in the process. During the winter of 1943-1944 a group of 300 defectors (including Gil) was encircled and destroyed by Germans and Vlasovites in vicinity of the Zyabki Railway Station.

Following the mass defection of most of the brigade's personnel, it became clear that SD lacked sufficient resources and desire to establish a large "Russian liberation army". The promises made earlier were simply made to attract high-quality personnel for the Operation Zeppelin. Kraus was no longer so willing to ressurect the whole project, while Zhilenkov and his closest associates were relieved of their duties in the brigade and went back to Berlin. Only Lamsdorff remained on the First Guard Brigade of the ROA which continued to be used, albeit only to a limited degree.

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